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Jan Hills

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Evidence-based agony aunt: “I want to give more responsibility to people. How do I get them to step up?”


Our evidence-based agony aunt, Jan Hills, uses findings from neuroscience and psychology to tell you how to solve your organisational problems in brain-savvy ways, that work with the mind's natural tendecies and not against it. Got a problem you want her to look at it? Drop us a line at [email protected]. We'll get back quickly.


"I want to give people more accountability, but I can't do it in a way that makes them realise how trusting I'm being and that they must step up. What do I do?"


There is quite a lot in this question but let's start by thinking about trust.

The neuroscience work on trust has mainly been carried out by Paul Zak. Zak’s research focus is on oxytocin, the neuromodulator hormone commonly associated with mother and child bonding.

The studies carried out by Zak and his colleagues were designed to understand how the human brain determines when or when not to trust someone.

In Zak’s research participants took part in the Trust Game designed to study individuals' propensity to be trusting and to be trustworthy, and their oxytocin levels were monitored throughout.

The researchers found that when participants felt they were trusted, their brains responded by producing oxytocin, and when participants were shown increased levels of trust their brain produced even more oxytocin.

Most significant however, was the finding that the rise in oxytocin levels resulted in participants behaving in a more trustworthy way.

The researchers conclude that people who feel trusted become more trustworthy as a result of increased oxytocin levels in their brain, leading Zak to call oxytocin "the trust molecule."

So my advice is to start with making sure you are able to give your complete trust. To do this you may have to chunk what you are delegating until it is at a level that you feel you can trust the other person to carry it out. 

There is lot's we can talk about on accountability but try trust first. 

For more information about the crucial role of trust in the workplace, take a look at this more in-depth article on the neuroscience of trust.

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Jan Hills


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